Urban air pollution has become a top priority for local, national and international governments in both developed and developing countries as they seek to reduce severe effects on human health. Cities around the world are increasingly galvanised to take action to reduce the environmental, health and economic impact of air emissions.
The new research also highlights the correlation between reducing air pollutants and the greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change. The report highlights case studies in Berlin, Dublin, Krakow and Rotterdam, where both greenhouse gas emissions and air quality have been significantly improved by the displacement of coal in power generation, space heating, and increased use of natural gas for inner city transportation. The study examines policies, such as fuel switching initiatives, that have led, or are leading to, real progress in improving air quality without sacrificing economic development.
“Air pollution is a significant threat to the environment and human health. The action taken in Berlin, Dublin, Krakow and Rotterdam demonstrates the central role of gas in improving air quality in urban areas. As these case studies demonstrate, switching from coal to gas-fired power is often the fastest and most cost-effective approach to improve air quality and reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change,” said David Carroll, President of the IGU.
- A widespread shift from coal to natural gas in power and heat generation (including residential) played a significant role in improving Berlin’s air quality in the decades after reunification.
- Since the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, air quality in Germany’s capital city has improved significantly. Berlin’s sulfur oxide (SOX) emissions have dropped by 95%, nitrus oxide (NOX) emissions decreased 76%, and particulate matter (PM10) emissions were on track to decline by 83% between 1989 and 2015.
- These decreases are largely attributable to reduced use of coal and an increase in the use of gas (from 17% of the city’s energy balance in 1990, to 41% by 2012).
- Until the late 1980s Dublin was among the worst cities in Europe for air quality, largely due to policies that encouraged the burning of cheap bituminous coal. Fatalities in the city were directly attributable to air pollution, which was sufficiently intense to block sunlight for periods of up to two weeks.
- Since 1990, the sale, marketing, and distribution of bituminous coal has been prohibited and since 2012 there has been a total ban on the burning of bituminous coal in homes. The sharp reduction in residential coal consumption has largely been backfilled with natural gas. Roughly 67% of households in Dublin now use natural gas, which also accounts for over 75% of energy demand in Dublin’s residential sector.
- These measures resulted in significantly reducing benzene, carbon monoxide, SOX, and smog levels, with particulate matter concentrations falling 80 – 90% from 1990 to 2014.
- A 2013 survey of air quality by the European Environmental Agency found that Krakow had the third worst air quality of any city in the EU, and the worst of any city with a population over 500 000.
- PM10 concentrations in Krakow exceeded EU safety limits on 188 of the 365 days in 2014 and, at times, reached six times the recommended maximum level.
- In January 2016, after years of legal wrangling and campaigning, Krakow city council introduced a city-wide coal ban, with a deadline of 2019 to completely phase out coal stoves from home heating.
- Krakow’s air pollution reduction programme also aims to expand the city’s gas distribution network, modernise its district heating system and promote renewable energy sources for domestic heating. Krakow offers a number of grants and other financial incentives to switch to cleaner fuels, particularly to natural gas.
- In 2014, the lifespan of a Rotterdam resident was three years shorter than the average Dutch citizen due to the high levels of air pollution. Many of the city’s air pollution challenges stem from port operations, port-related traffic and nearby industrial facilities.
- The Rotterdam Climate Initiative (RCI) was introduced in 2010 and aims to improve air quality in the port, the city and the surrounding industrial areas.
- Rotterdam started LNG bunkering operations in August 2016 and is planning to have three LNG fuelling berths installed by the end of 2016. Switching to LNG in the port can reduce NOX emissions by up to 90% and SOX and PM emissions by up to 100%.
Armed with the latest supporting data, the examples above, and other urban area case studies presented in the IGU’s 2015 urban air quality study, the IGU supports policies that reduce GHG emissions and emissions of health-damaging air pollutants such as:
- Improvement of end use energy efficiency.
- Increases in combustion efficiency (reducing or eliminating black carbon and other products of incomplete combustion).
- Encouragement of fuel switching.
- Increased use of non-combustion renewable energies.
Martin Lutz, Senate Department for Urban Development and Environment, Head of Sector Air Quality Management, Berlin, commented: “Having promoted gas for decades as a clean fuel in particular for residential heating, we are now focusing on CNG vehicles as a clean and mature technology alternative to diesel in order to meet the air quality standards also in trafficked roads. Whilst we’ve reached a decent density of CNG filling stations, we still need a broader variety of gas-vehicle models offered by